On a night when Towson Head Coach Pat Skerry and Junior transfer Jerrelle Benimon received CAA Honors for Coach of the year and Player of the Year respectfully, there was another Tiger player who won an award and has received little recognition during his two years on the team.
Graduate student Bryan Blackstone was named CAA All-Academic Honorable Mention. Blackstone, a two year walk-on graduated from Towson last May with a degree in Exercise Science and is pursuing a Masters in Professional Studies. Blackstone must have taken his exercise science studies seriously. The 5’10” 185 pound guard is solid muscle. He is often seen in the pre-game shoot around sporting a muscle shirt, that does justice to his boxer like biceps and shoulders, that look like they belong in the backfield as a full back for Coach Rob Ambrose’s football squad.
The boxer look is not just a coincidence. When asked what’s next for him Blackstone replied, “I love the fight game, fighting has always been in my life. My Grandpa was a professional boxer, so I want to try and get in the ring again, to see how far I can get in fighting.”
It is that fighter’s mentality that helped Blackstone earn a spot on the Towson squad last year as a walk-on. When Skerry arrived at Towson prior to the start of the 2011-12 season, he faced a squad that had players transfer out and drop out and be dropped from the team. Needing to fill out the roster the Tigers hosted open tryouts for walk-ons. That was when Blackstone saw his opportunity to make a dream come true. “I’ve gone to Towson for all four years and it’s always been a dream of mine to play Division I basketball. Last year after the tryouts they kept calling me back and finally brought me into the office and said they’d love to have me on the team. So from that day on I’ve loved every minute of being a Towson Tiger. It’s been a great experience. Whether that meant playing time or no playing time at all I just wanted to be part of a Division I program.” More often than not it has meant no playing time.
Blackstone has played a total of 30 minutes over the two years. He often only gets in during the last minute of two of a game that is already decided. But that doesn’t bother him, as he’s been able to fulfill that dream of playing Division I basketball. “I appreciate the coaching staff and the support they gave me and my teammates have been a second family to me. It’s been a great experience, he said.
Blackstone feels his role as limited as it is, is an important message to the rest of the team. “Like anyone I love any playing time I get. If that means my time is the last minute of a game, I’m going to go in there and give it my all. I love to scrap; I’ll dive after a ball. I got my nose broken in practice by my good friend Kris (Walden) and went into the bathroom, and cracked it back into place and came back to guard him. So it drives me, and I hope it drives the other guys to play hard when they see a walk-on not giving up and playing hard, I hope it inspires them to keep going.”
With his time on the practice floor Blackstone is often on the team opposite Benimon during practice and gets an up close view from the bench during games. He explained what it was like to watch him this year, “He’s amazing, he’s an unstoppable force. He’s a talent that doesn’t come around often and when it does come around, it’s amazing to see. I was able to witness it first-hand, in practice, chillin in the dorm rooms, and on road trips. It’s something I’ll never forget and I give him all the respect in the world for what lies ahead in his future.”
Blackstone will leave Towson not only able to say he played on a Division I basketball team, but a record setting team. Towson’s NCAA record turnaround for one season of 17.5 games is due in large to Skerry’s coaching ability, Blackstone feels. “We were actually able to learn from what he—Skerry—had to say. We didn’t just listen, we actually put it into play. Coach always says you need good players for a program to succeed. But it’s not just good players; you have to have the right chemistry that want to come together as a family. And that chemistry has now really showed itself in the form of NCAA history.”
So not only did Blackstone realize his dream of playing Division I basketball, he did so on a team that set an NCAA record as mentioned. So whatever dreams he sets for himself in the boxing ring or the sports performance field if he decides to use his masters, he knows the dedication it takes to make dreams happen.